I’ve had two conversations in the past 24 hours that have brought me around to thinking about a couple of things I no longer really believe, and I’m glad I can’t bring myself to believe them anymore, because it’s already paying handsome dividends in terms of saving me time, energy and heartache.
The first is that, given the chance, absolutely everyone would prefer to fix his or her problems. This, I have come to realise, is patently false. We have differences, significant differences of personality, and some people love their problems – they’re completely, thoroughly devoted to them. These people are, with the jaundiced eye of experience, pretty easy to spot: high drama seems to follow them around, there’s always some new crisis, and they declare loud and long that they are always the victims of terrible misfortune. Again. The thing is, the latter is bound to be true – we are all touched by misfortune, it’s part of life and unavoidable, it’s just that everyone deals with it so, so differently.
Don’t get me wrong – I think this attitude of perpetual victimhood does in itself tend to cultivate more problems, in the way of bad debt, but I’ve watched too many people roll around in their problems – thrilling to them, actually, and not doing a single thing to address them – to believe it’s a coincidence. It’s not a coincidence, and it’s not bad luck. There are people in this world who, if given the opportunity to change their lot, will make the worst possible decision in relation to that opportunity. They will squander it, odds on, and then they’ll do something else: they’ll develop what I like to call Opportunity Amnesia. In short order, all memory and evidence of said opportunity will cease to exist. Oh no, they didn’t blow it – it was never there in the first place, not like it is for other people, and therefore nothing of whatever follows is ever their fault.
Now, I am someone who has made a lifelong habit of capitalising on every opportunity that’s ever been sent my way. I actively embrace my best chance, every time. This does not, as some would have it, mean I have had any more opportunities thrown my way than others – it simply means that I have reacted to the circumstances of them in a very particular way. This is my personality, something I do actively but instinctively, and some people – given the precise same set of circumstances – will always choose differently.
I understand this now.
So when my friend called me yesterday to have a meltdown about someone close in her life that suffers from (wilful) Opportunity Amnesia, I knew how frustrated she was. For a start, I could hear it – her disbelief, her bewilderment, and her utter, utter exhaustion. I could also recognise it, because I have been there plenty of times myself.
“She’s not going to change,” I heard myself saying. “You’re different people. You want her to embrace your advice, she should take your advice, but you know what? She won’t, probably not ever, so you just have to figure out what you can live with, otherwise you’ll only drive yourself insane. And you’ll keep getting sucked into her vortex. This is your routine together, these are the parts you play, and I’m afraid you can only change your role in her drama. You want to keep offering her answers and advice and sensible solutions, but the fact is, she doesn’t want ’em.’”
This is merely an opinion – mine – and it’s bound to be unpopular, because on the surface it sounds so… uncharitable. It sounds as though I don’t acknowledge that some people truly have a much harder time of it, and find life a genuine struggle. I can see that – there is abundant evidence of this fact all around me, and I would have to be a particular kind of asshole not to acknowledge, lament, and even try to alleviate it in whatever ways are open to me. I’m just saying I have seen another type of person in action too – and this type of person requires and accepts a whole vast fleet of support systems, and then systemically compromises every benefit afforded by it. I think it’s pathological behaviour, I really do. I no longer believe that everyone wants to find the way out. Some people are determined to stay in strife – they thrive on it, and if you don’t, then I suggest that like me, you learn to keep your distance where at all possible, because I no longer believe there’s much point in these two types of people having much to do with each other. They are fundamentally incompatible – some people are, it’s not a crime – so why keep doing it to each other, why keep trying to force things to be other than they are? Much better, I have learned, to say good luck with that, but I respectfully decline to come along for the ride.
The other thing I no longer believe is that there is such a thing, truly, as a ‘mixed message.’ Another friend emailed today to bemoan a failed romance, and the guy’s many mixed messages. I read through the list of confusing, contradictory statements he’d made to her, and then I wrote back.
‘You know, honey, I am at a point in my life where I don’t much believe in mixed messages. I think that there is usually only one, but some people seem to feel the need to dress it up and try to pass it off as something else. It’s his loss; I suggest you leave him to it.’
This wasn’t an easy thing to say, because it’s natural to gravitate to the more positive messages in the mix, they’re so much nicer, but everything else he did and said belies those messages, and lays bare the only one that ultimately counts: he doesn’t want to be with her. That’s the message. It’s the only message – there’s nothing mixed about it. That doesn’t make the other sentiments untrue, it just means they’re not really part of the message he is trying to communicate. And as I think about this situation more and more – the template of message transmission, if you like – the more I think they never or rarely are. People may have trouble articulating their message. They may genuinely wish to avoid inflicting hurt on another person. They may have positive feelings that they want to share with you, because they think these will help cushion the blow. But none of this ever changes or mixes the fundamental message. Because when you do want to be with someone, it’s very easy to express. Elementary. And I no longer believe that it’s any harder to express the opposite – some people just make it hard. Maybe they do this with very good intentions, but really, they’re merely accessorising at this point, because what they’re really saying is no.
And these days, well, I don’t know about you, but if ‘no’ is what someone is saying to me, I’d really prefer they cut the crap. Life is too short to sift through so-called mixed messages like I’m panning for gold. Increasingly it seems to me that the nugget is always plain to see.